College Baseball 360 2012 Team Previews

February 10, 2012
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A Look At Teams 1-10…

Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan with ESPN's Kyle Peterson at the CWS

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With the start of the season rapidly approaching, here’s a look at some of the top teams in the country heading into the 2012 college baseball season.

Our rankings are based on a “composite formula” that combines not only the existing weekly preseason national polls, but also other factors like strength of schedule and preseason conference polls. Other criteria will continually be added throughout the season to our composite rankings.

Here is a look at the top 10 teams heading into the season.

( ) Stats in parenthesis are from the 2011 season.

* After a statistic denotes team leader in that statistical category.

Top 10 By Conference: SEC: 4, ACC: 2, Big 12: 2, Pac-12: 1, Conference USA: 1

CLICK HERE to see the entire CB360 2012 Preseason Composite National Rankings

CLICK HERE to see capsules for teams 11-20

CLICK HERE to see capsules for teams 21-30

1. Florida

2011 Record: 53-19

In 2010, Kevin O’Sullivan led Florida to its first College World Series since 2005’s national runner-up appearance, but the Gators were two and ‘que in Rosenblatt Stadium’s swan song. Last year, virtually the same team stormed all the way to the CWS Championship Series, only to fall to SEC Eastern Division rival South Carolina.

The question O’Sullivan has this year is – Can that same core of players take things one step farther?

While the two-time defending champion Gamecocks have considerable losses to deal with (see below), the Gators return almost everyone from last year’s 53 win team.

Starting pitchers Hudson Randall (11-3*, 2.17 ERA, 124 1/3 IP*, 2 CG*), Karsten Whitson (8-1, 2.40 ERA, 97 1/3 IP, 92 K*) and two-way player Brian Johnson (8-1, 2.40 ERA/.307 BA, 5 HR, 29 RBIs) combined to pitch nearly half of the team’s 644 innings last year. A slew of heavy duty arms will back them up in the bullpen.

The line-up is led by catcher Mike Zunino (.371*, 19 HR*, 23 Doubles*, 67 RBIs, 75 Runs*, 1.116 OPS*) and senior Preston Tucker (.308, 15 HR, 74 RBIs*, 23 Doubles*). Daniel Pigott (.331, 5 HR, 40 RBIs, 15 SB*), Nolan Fontana (.289, 5 HR, 49 RBIs), Austin Maddox (.280, 6 HR, 35 RBIs/0.67 ERA, 21 App., 5 SV*), Tyler Thompson (.264, 27 Starts), and Vickash Ramjit (.382, 19 Starts) all fortify the best top to bottom everyday lineup in the country heading into the season. Tucker told us anything short of a national championship this year would be a disappointment and it’s hard to disagree.

The Gators challenge themselves right away when they host a three-game series vs. Cal State Fullerton to open the season.

CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast interview with Gator Preston Tucker.

2. South Carolina

2011 Record:  55-14

Ray Tanner’s Gamecocks won a second straight national title last year after returning a slew of talent from the 2010 championship squad. This year will be different though. South Carolina loses several key players from the back-to-back championship teams – including position players Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.247, 6 HR, 27 RBIs), Scott Wingo (.338, 4 HR, 31 RBIs), Brady Thomas (.316, 4 HR, 43 RBIs), Robert Beary (.289, 3 HR, 35 RBIs), Adrian Morales (.281, 3 HR, 40 RBIs), and relievers John Taylor (8-1, 1.14 ERA, 50 App., *) and Jose Mata (3-0, 1.76 ERA). The two pitchers combined to make 73 appearances (50 by Taylor) en-route to the team’s second crown last year.

While the losses are formidable, South Carolina does return arguably the most important pitcher in the country, Michael Roth (14-3*, 1.06 ERA, CG*, 145 IP*, 112 K*), over the last two seasons. Sophomore closer Matt Price (7-3, 1.83 ERA, 20 SV*, 59 IP, 70 K*), Forrest Koumas (6-1, 2.96 ERA) and Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.69 ERA) fortify a solid pitching staff.

Infield cornerstone Christian Walker (.358*, 10 HR*, 62 RBIs*, 21 Doubles*, 64 Runs*, .992 OPS*) and  Evan Marzilli (.291, 3 HR, 31 RBIs) are also back for a shot at another run at Omaha.

South Carolina is the only SEC team to reach the NCAA Tournament and also record 40 or more wins in each of the last 12 seasons. The Gamecocks have 577 overall wins, including 222 in SEC play (the most of any team in the conference) during that stretch.

3. Stanford

2011 Record: 35-22

You would be hard pressed to find a team that played a tougher schedule than Stanford last year. You would be even harder pressed to find a pitcher who had tougher head-to-head match-ups in 2011 than Cardinal ace Mark Appel (6-7, 3.02 ERA, 2 CG*, 110 1/3 IP*). Stanford opened its season with series at Rice, at Vanderbilt and at Texas, making the likes of Sonny Gray and Taylor Jungmann Appel’s counterparts on those nights. That’s not to mention match-ups with Sam Gaviglio, Gerrit Cole, Brady Rodgers, Kurt Heyer, and Erik Johnson in Pac-10 play.

The long and short of it is, while Appel won just six times for a 35 win Stanford team, both were battle tested when the NCAA Tournament rolled around as the Cardinal won the Fullerton Regional before falling to North Carolina in Super Regional play.

Appel leads a pitching staff that includes Dean McArdle (7-4*, 4.21 ERA), A.J. Vanegas (1-0, 3.35 ERA, 23 App.) and Brett Mooneyham, who missed all of last season due to injury. The lefty made 28 starts in his first two seasons in 2009 & ’10.

The everyday lineup is stocked with the likes of Stephen Piscotty (.364*, 3 HR, 40 RBIs, 13 Doubles), Brian Ragira (.329, 4 HR, 46 RBIs*, 5 Triples*), Tyler Gaffney (.327, 3 HR, 35 RBIs, 5 Triples*, 10 Doubles, 42 Runs*), Austin Wilson (.311, 5 HR*, 30 RBIs), Lonnie Kauppila (.298, 10 Doubles, 25 RBIs), Kenny Diekroeger (.293, 2 HR, 31 RBIs, 31 Runs), and Jake Stewart (.287, 19 RBIs, 15 Doubles*, 8 SB*, 32 Runs).

By the way, Texas, Rice and Vandy all visit Sunken Diamond this year.

4. North Carolina

2011 Record: 51-16

The good news for Mike Fox and his Tar Heels last year was, after being eliminated in the Regional round in 2010 (on the heels of four straight CWS appearances from 2006-2009), they got back to Omaha in 2011. The bad news was, it was one of their shortest CWS trips. North Carolina was just 1-2 at TD Ameritrade Park last year, with a win over Texas sandwiched between losses to Vanderbilt.

The good news for Fox this year is he returns the bulk of last year’s team. Colin Moran (.335*, 9*, 71 RBIs*, 20 Doubles*, .982 OPS*), Tommy Coyle (.311, 2 HR, 36 RBIs, 57 Runs*, 16 Doubles, 18 SB*), Jacob Stallings (.292, 4 HR, 43 RBIs), Chaz Frank (.278, 35 RBIs, 10 SB). Coyle and Stallings were two of just three Tar Heels to start all 67 games last year. The biggest blow to the lineup and infield is the loss of shortstop Levi Michael (.289, 5 HR, 48 RBIs).

The pitching staff loses ace Patrick Johnson (13-2*, 2.47 ERA, 113 IP*, 125 K*), but there are more than enough returning arms to pick-up the slack. Among them Kent Emanuel (9-1, 2.33 ERA*, 104 1/3 IP), Chris Munnelly (6-5, 4.09 ERA, 10 Starts, 1 SV), Tate Parrish (2.20 ERA, 32 App., 16 1/3 IP, 15 K), Andrew Smith (3-1, 2.77 ERA, 24 App., 26 IP, 27 K), Shane Taylor (2-3, 3.00 ERA, 36 IP, 38 K), R.C. Orlan (2-0, 3.79 ERA, 32 App., 19 IP, 24 K), and Michael Morlin (4-2, 4.64 ERA, 32 App., 6 Starts, 10 SV*, 64 IP, 66 K).

5. Texas A&M

2011 Record: 47-22

Like its arch rival, Texas, Texas A&M is coming-off a trip to the College World Series. It was the program’s first appearance under head coach Rob Childress and its first since 1999. Unlike Texas, this will be A&M’s last season in the Big 12, as the Aggies move to the SEC (along with Missouri) next season.

Kind of makes the April 27-29 series (first game in College Station with the second two in Austin) must see college baseball.

Regardless of next year’s conference address, Childress has the cupboard stocked with returning talent this year. Most notably, reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Tyler Naquin (.381*, 68 Runs*, 44 RBIs, 7 triples*, 23 doubles*, .987 OPS*). The Aggie leadoff man is joined by Jacob House (.301, 3 HR, 52 RBIs*), Matt Juengel (.308, 7 HR*, 50 RBIs), and 2011 Freshman All-American Krey Bratsen (.332, 36 RBIs, 19 sac bunts*, 31 SB*).

Childress has plenty of pitching back too, with Michael Wacha (9-4, 2.29 ERA, 2 CG, 129 2/3 IP*, 123 K*) and versatile Ross Stripling (14-2*, 2.29 ERA, 4 CG*, 4 SV, 125 2/3 IP) at the front of the weekend rotation. Those two combine to give the Aggies one of the top Friday-Saturday duos in the country.

6. Rice

2011 Record: 42-21

Time marches on as Ray Graham prepares for his 21st season at the helm at Rice. The veteran has averaged an amazing 45 wins in his two decades at the helm. If he hits that number this year and next, he will move past 1,000 career victories.

Graham enters 2011 looking to replace, arguably, the best player in Rice history – Anthony Rendon (.327*, 6 HR, 20 Doubles*, 1.043 OPS*). The third baseman’s home runs dropped last year thanks to BBCOR, but he still hit 52 HR in his three seasons in an Owl uniform. He was the sixth overall pick and the first college position player selected in last year’s MLB Draft (Washington Nationals).

As good as Rendon is, the one thing Rice did not do while he was there is go to the College World Series. The Owls were the No. 8 national seed and hosted an NCAA Regional last year, but they went just 1-2 and saw Cinderella Cal advance all the way to the CWS out of their Regional.

Rice has both plenty of offense and pitching returning this year. Michael Ratterree (.327*, 6 HR*, 53 RBIs*, 20 Doubles*), Craig Manuel (.309, 35 RBIs, 26 Runs) and Shane  Hoelscher (.281, 3 HR, 37 RBIs, 13 Doubles, 30 Runs) are among the top position players back.

Austin Kubitza (6-5, 2.34 ERA*, 100 IP*, 102 K*) heads the weekend rotation, while Matthew Reckling (4-1, 3.10 ERA, 78 1/3 IP, 96 K), Tyler Duffey (8-2*, 2.52 ERA, 30 App., 60 2/3 IP, 76 K), and John Simms (3-2, 3.32 ERA, 62 1/3 IP, 63 K, 23 App.) all return as well. Reckling is the grandson of Rice alum T.R. Reckling, for whom Rice’s home stadium, Reckling Park, is named.

7. Texas

2011 Record: 49-19

After failing to advance to the College World Series from 2006-2008, Augie Garrido’s Longhorns have righted the ship with trips to Omaha two of the last three seasons. Last year’s Omaha appearance was historically short though. Texas was two-and-out for just the second time in its 25 CWS appearances since 1966 last year with losses to Florida and North Carolina.

Gone from last year’s team is first round draftee Taylor Jungmann (13-3, 1.60 ERA, 5 CG, 141 IP*, 126 K*), whose only three losses of the season came in consecutive weeks in NCAA play. Cole Green (8-4, 3.14 ERA, 106 IP, 104 K) is gone as well, leaving Garrido with nearly 250 innings pitched to replace. It’s Texas though, so arms won’t be a problem.  National Freshman of the Year Corey Knebel (3-2, 1.13 ERA, 19 SV*, 55 2/3 IP, 61 K), Sam Stafford (6-2, 1.77 ERA) and Hoby Milner (7-4, 2.45 ERA) are back along with a host of other options.

Erich Weiss (.348*, 4 HR, 7 triples*, 12 doubles, 45 RBIs*, 1.003 OPS*) was the Longhorns’ top bat as a freshman last year, but he’ll need others to step-up around him with the losses of veterans Brandon Loy (.342, 30 RBIs) and Tant Shepherd (.303, 5 HR*, 41 RBIs).

8. Arkansas

2011 Record:

If Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn knows nothing else about the 2012 season, he knows this – his Razorbacks will not have to go through Arizona State in Tempe in the NCAA Tournament. After both teams went to the 2009 College World Series, they squared-off in a 2010 Super Regional, with ASU again advancing to Omaha. Arkansas then bowed-out to the Sun Devils in Tempe in the Regional final last year. However, there is no way the two will meet in the postseason this year, because Arizona State is ineligible due to NCAA probation.

Freshman All-American Dominic Ficociello (.335*, 4 HR, 50 RBIs*, 15 Doubles) is back to lead a lineup that returns five position players from a team that won a tight race in the SEC Western Division. Only two games in the loss column separated first place from last place in the division. Bo Bigham (.291, 2 HR, 20 RBIs, 17 SB), Matt Reynolds (.243, 3 HR, 22 RBIs, 16 SB) and Tim Carver (.232, HR, 13 RBIs, 30 Runs, 24 SB*) are among those who will need to step-up to replace the power and production of James McCann (.306, 6 HR, 38 RBIs, 14 Doubles) and Kyle Robinson (.291, 10 HR*, 49 RBIs).

The Razorbacks will rely on a pitching staff whose 3.20 ERA in 2011 was the program’s best since 1982. All-SEC pitcher D.J. Baxendale (10-2*, 1.58 ERA*, CG, 3 SV, 81/3 IP*, 77 K*) is at the front of the weekend rotation and is among 10 returning Hog pitchers. Freshman All-Americans Barrett Astin (5-2, 2.72 ERA, 3 SV, 27 App.*) and Nolan Sanburn (2-4, 3.62 ERA, 8 SV) combined for 92 IP and 92 Ks last year.

9. Georgia Tech

2011 Record:

The Yellow Jackets hosted an NCAA Regional for the ninth time in 12 years in 2011, but failed to advance after being upset in the first round by Austin Peay and ultimately seeing Mississippi State advance to Super Regional play.

Danny Hall enters his 19th season at Georgia Tech just 13 wins away from 1,000 in his career. He is also looking to take his team back to the College World Series for the first time since 2006.

Hall loses his top overall bat in Matt Skole (.348*, 10 HR, 58 RBIs*, .990 OPS*), but he has more than enough returning offense back in 2011 with Jake Davies (.347, 5 HR, 35 RBIs, 13 Doubles), Freshman All-American Kyle Wren (.340, 32 RBIs, 11 Doubles, 7 Triples*, 57 Runs*, 16 SB), Sam Dove (.310, 18 RBIs, 30 Runs), Brandon Thomas (.307, 3 HR, 29 RBIs, 29 Runs, 12 Doubles, 19 SB*), Daniel Palka (.297, 12 HR*, 52 RBIs, 18 Doubles, 41 Runs), Mott Hyde (.275, 4 HR, 47 RBIs, 39 Runs, 13 Doubles), and Zane Evans (.270, 5 HR, 46 RBIs, 34 Runs, 14 Doubles) all returning.

Mark Pope (11-4*, 1.74 ERA, 5 CG*, 113 2/3 IP*) is the biggest pitching loss, but the ’11 staff is still deep with Buck Farmer (11-3*, 2.91 ERA, 2 CG, 108 1/3 IP, 106 K*), Matthew Grimes (7-4, 4.15 ERA, 73 2/3 IP, 77 K), DeAndre Smelter (2-1, 0.52 ERA), Luke Bard (2-2, 2.72 ERA, 8 SV*, 25 App.*, 49 2/3 IP, 46 K), Dusty Isaacs (1-1, 2.72 ERA, 36 1/3 IP, 40 K, 25 App.*), and Devin Stanton (1-0, 3.38 ERA, 18 App.) all back looking for a deep NCAA run.

10. LSU

2011 Record: 36-20

Since winning the 2009 national championship, LSU was eliminated in NCAA Regional play in 2010 and just missed the NCAA field in 2011. Paul Mainieri’s young squad struggled to find consistency last year, but last year’s youngsters are all SEC-seasoned veterans now for a team that many considered a 2012 CWS favorite as soon as the 2011 season ended.

The biggest place where inexperience showed last year was in the weekend pitching rotation, where freshmen Kevin Gausman (5-6, 3.51 ERA, 89 2/3 IP*, 86 K*) and Kurt McCune (7-3*, 89 2/3 IP*, 3.31 ERA*) ate the bulk of the innings. Fellow Freshman Ryan Eades (4-1, 4.81 ERA, 6 starts, 18 App.) emerged and joined his classmates in the weekend rotation by season’s end, going 3-0 in his last three starts of the season. That included a win over eventual Super Regional team Mississippi State. Eades also went on to earn Cape Cod Pitcher of the Year honors last summer. Those three give Mainieri what he thinks is the best weekend rotation in the nation entering the season.

The Tigers must fill the void left by closer Matty Ott (1-3, 2.60 ERA, 6 SV*). Sophomore Nick Rumbelow (2-0, 4.85 ERA, 10 App.), All-American juco transfer Nick Goody and freshman Aaron Nola (the younger brother of Austin Nola) have been competing for that spot. The two who fall short in that battle will start the season as set-up men.

Mikie Mahtook (.383*, 61 Runs*, 12 doubles, 5 triples*, 14 HR*, 56 RBIs*), who hit 14 of the team’s 34 home runs last year, is gone. JaCoby Jones (.338, 4 HR, 32 RBIs, 11 Doubles, 12 SB) will take over for him in centerfield, while Raph Rhymes (.360, 3 HR, 42 RBIs, 43 Runs, 18 Doubles)), Mason Katz (.337, 4 HR, 53 RBIs, 40 Runs, 21 Doubles*), and Austin Nola (.296, 2 HR, 42 RBIs, 13 Doubles, 40 Runs) are all back in the everyday lineup.

CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast interview with LSU head coach Paul Mainieri.

 

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